Interview: Valentina Magaletti

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Valentina Magaletti is a drummer and songwriter whose unfettered sense of rhythm has led her to new territories that loosely incorporate jazz, experimental and psych.

A lynchpin of London’s sonic underground, Valentina’s sticks are in demand across loads of projects, from Tomaga, Vanishing Twin, UUUU, The Oscillation and CZN, to solo endeavours from Pierre Bastien and Lafawndah.

All are drawn to her fearless dedication to sonic exploration, which sees her flaunt the line between improvisation and form. Her hypnotic performances are often supported by unconventional kits that she masters like a virtuoso – whether that’s a collection of kitchen colanders or pan lid cymbals.

As she prepares to perform with Vanishing Twin tonight (Wednesday), and with new releases on the horizon with Julian Sartorius, Tomaga and Pierre Bastien, we check in with the formidable beat-maker to learn what makes her tick…

Why drums? How did you first get into playing?

Music videos certainly played an important role for me as a teenager. Drums always caught my attention for some reason, probably because I am a small and loud human being.

I remember watching The Bangles, thinking…wow! I want to be the drummer in a band like that.

What’s the idea of your perfect drum kit – what does it look and sound like?

I don’t think there is such a thing as ‘perfect’ drum kit in my head. There is never too many drums or percussive objects around in my place. The idea of perfection is utterly abstract and not always appealing.

However, I favour unconventional materials and set-ups. I love to change what I play all the time. Lately, I have been using less and less cymbals, focusing on tuned gongs, contact microphones and more percussions.

Are there any drumming styles that have influenced you in particular?

So many! My style is a result of hours and hours of worshipping my colleagues over the years. Ikue Mori (DNA), Georgia Hubley (Yo La Tengo), Jaki Liebezeit (Can), Milford Graves, Elvin Jones, Tony Buck, Charles Hayward, Billy Higgins, Han Bennink, Art Blakey, Yoshino etc etc…

All the above aren’t just drummers, they are storytellers and helped my ears to engage in a wider sonic world. They use rhythm as their narrative, and they take you to places you’ve never been.

Is rhythm innate or can it be taught?

I am inclined to think it is innate. I have been teaching drums to children and teenagers for quite a while and I found it extremely fascinating how personal their approach to rhythm is.

The conventional idea of rhythm is probably innate. Some children will instantly pick up the sticks and ‘play’ a pattern or clap their hands in time with a song, while others struggle to find a geometric shape with their sound. What is ultimately important is the enjoyment and not the recognition.

What pearls of wisdom can you offer anyone thinking about picking up sticks?

Listen to as much music as possible, try to go to as many interesting shows as possible, find the nearest ping-pong bat, hit it following the rhythm with your sticks. Then, reach out to drummers near you ask for lessons, jams, advice.

What about recording drums – how do you generally find that process?

I love working in the studio. I get to be really creative in a (usually) short period of time. It is stimulating for me.

I usually have a lot of ideas on the spot and after laying down the basic track, I record layers and layers of percussive overdubs, experimenting with signatures and sounds.

Do you have any tips for capturing the best sound?

I like working with the headphones adding drums in real time. Often, I would have them processed as I drum along the track… if it makes sense?

This way I get to capture the urge of it, without waiting for post-production etc… I like achieving the sound ‘as you go’.

You play across loads of bands and collaborate widely – is there anywhere you feel most at home?

Except for few touring commitments, I write music in most projects I work with.

Tomaga, Vanishing Twin, CZN with Joao Pais Filipe and Sulla Pelle, my latest sonic adventure (out soon on marionette label) with Julian Sartorius are all different rooms in my house.

With your fingers in so many pies, what do you think about the current state of independent and leftfield music in London and the UK? Is it quite a small community or do you see many branches all over the place?

I feel that is it a tiny little world where sooner or later you connect with the people that hear the same world as you. London is an incredible city to meet musicians and to collaborate with tons of interesting artists.

What’s keeping you busy for the rest of the year?

The rest of my year is incredibly busy. As mentioned, I have a drum album with Julian Sartorius coming out at the end of the month, an artist residency in Brazil, an incredible release out soon on Nicholas Jaar’s label (Other People) with my duo Tomaga and French master Pierre Bastien.

And between others touring commitment with Lafawandah, I will start promoting The Age of Immunology, the latest Vanishing Twin album out on Fire this summer.

And finally, what’s on the magadrum stereo at the moment?

The new Pierre Bastien album, Tinkle Twang ‘n Tootle (out on Marionette), Papivore’s album Death and Spring (out on Hands in the Dark), Catherine Christer Hennix’s The Deontic Miracle album, Selections from 100 Models of Hegikan Roku, and Jan Steele/John Cage’s Voices and Instruments.

Vanishing Twin play at 9294, London, tonight (Wednesday).